Trafalgar Square rally formed mainly by white English

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

The famous Trafalgar Square rally of 1 August 1971 where diplomat Mohiuddin Ahmed publicly switched allegiance was arranged in large part due to school teacher Paul Connett and Oxford University graduate Marietta Procope of 'Action Bangladesh'. It was due to their leadership and organisational ability that 25,000 people were able to gather in one place.

Marietta Procope had even donated her house to be used as the headquarter for Action Bangladesh. Action Bangladesh's sister organisation, Operation Omega, was run by several people including Roger Moodey and Ellen Connett. Both organisations were sponsored by CAS Kabir, a Bengali.

The gathering of the 25,000 people in Trafalgar Square is a record. And I was one of the organisers. You can’t organise this sort of big rallies in one day. That was in April, every year their used to be a meeting in Paris, about financing the Pakistan government, called the Paris Consortium. We went to Paris also, we demonstrated there, to stop grants to Pakistan government.

Paul Connett, with one Pakistani flag in hand, went in front of Pakistan High Commission and said 'Joi Bangla'. That was recorded by the TV, and behind Paul Connett, Marietta Procope was there with another Bangladesh flag. So there were two white persons demonstrating against the military attack on the people of Bangladesh. One interviewer at that time from the television questioned Paul that 'you are a single person, and you are an English man, how come you can free Bangladesh, from the rule of the military junta?'. Paul at that time with his confidence declared, 'you watch and see what I can do' and later he was able to draw 25,000 people on 1 August 1971. It did not happened in one day. We had about 250 regular members of the two committee [Action Bangladesh and Omega Operation], Twin committee, in each and every town we had our people. We used to print out leaflets, magazines and we send them all those things and organise things.

Four months before the meeting of 1st August, we fixed the date and we booked the Trafalgar Square. We were organising (this) through all the medias, (and letting them know) that on 1 August 1971 we were going to have a rally in Trafalgar Square and declare the independence of Bangladesh. By this time, Marietta Procope and Lutfur Jehan Chowdhury, a very good worker, visited the British Parliament and invited each and every MP to join with the movement and took signature of about 200 people, 200 parliamentarians to declare the independence of Bangladesh. That was a great task. Veteran politicians like Tony Benn, Bruce Douglas Man, Michael Barnes, Sir Christopher May Hew, Robert Silkin (trade union leader and he was very young at that time). Those are the people actually worked very hard. And they were giving directions what we can do, how we can do and they sought so many experience and examples about Vietnam War and other world movement and politics. They used to guide us, that you are to do these things, that’s the way you will achieve independence and that's the way, and you deserve it. Because you are Bengali people and you are a nation and you are separated from West Pakistan by about 1000 miles and in-between, there is another vast country called India. So this is a country, today or tomorrow it will collapse, that sort of advice we used to get from them. And we were very much inspired by their advice. So that’s the way, things were being organised, things were not been organised in one day, we had to go to different places, different people.

CAS Kabir

In the middle of the two weeks at the beginning of August [1971] I attended my first ever protest march and rally. 'Action Bangladesh' had organised a protest in support of the struggle to gain independence for Bangladesh (East Pakistan), I suppose there may have been some Bengalis working that day, but it looked to me as if the whole Bangladeshi population of Britain had converged on Trafalgar Square.

...The person above all who made an impression upon me was Marietta Procope. She was personally committed to the cause and – as I understand it – had originally given Action Bangladesh a room from which to organise. By the time I arrived the organisation had taken over not only her life, but her house, all she had left to herself was her bed! I remember her as very slim and a prodigious consumer of cigarettes and coffee. I don’t know whether I had a crush on her, I might have done, but I do know she inspired me. That week at Action Bangladesh convinced me that ordinary people can make a difference, that there is always hope and that people are fundamentally good. I went back to school, the war ended and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. I never saw Marietta or anyone from Action Bangladesh again, but in the forty years that followed I have been involved in the Labour Party then the Communist Party, I have been a trades union official, I have campaigned against nuclear weapons, against Apartheid, against racism, I have demonstrated, canvassed, petitioned, leafleted, I have written letters and lobbied, and I continue to do so.

I was very upset when I learned of Marietta’s death after she returned from Bangladesh, having visited shortly after the war. I can’t pretend to understand how others think, but I have known the pits of depression and considered killing myself and I regret that anyone should suffer. I like to think of her death as one last protest against mans inhumanity to man. I was pleased to see that she is among the 124 foreigners being honoured by Bangladesh for their contribution to the War of Liberation; for my part I would like to think that the campaigning and political activity I have undertaken is a small, but not inappropriate, tribute to the memory of the woman who inspired me to action.

Rory Paton, a seasoned human rights activist who participated in the "Stop Genocide, Recognise Bangladesh" rally

In addition, protestors would go and demonstrate against the Chinese Embassy, Pakistani High Commission and other high commissions or embassy, who were against the independence of Bangladesh. Some (white) English members of Action Bangladesh had even went on hunger strikes outside the Pakistan High Commission 'days after days for the independence'. Street dramas were also organised throughout London showing the way the Pakistani military were torturing the people of Bangladesh and how they were burning houses. Lutfur Jehan Chowdhury and Reba Francesca of Action Bangladesh played a vital and active role in organising such events, and they were aided by 250 other people (including 30 Bengalis) who worked regularly throughout UK to bring awareness to the wider public.

Like Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square also became a regular venue for demonstrations.

Usually demonstrations were held at Trafalgar Square every Sunday. We attended demonstration in London by hired coaches. On our way to London we used to collect people from smaller towns and reached our destination with 4 or 5 coaches full of people. We had a demonstration in Luton and I think 2,000 - 3,000 people participated in it. There were many English and people from other nationality who participated in our demonstrations. They asked us, what was the problem, and we used to tell them about the atrocities going on in East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Some were convinced and used to participate with us. We had a big demonstration at Bury Park. We had fights on that day as the Pakistanis attacked us. The police gave us protection. We had many White people supporting us but unfortunately I can't remember their names at this moment. I can remember some Black people supporting us, one was Mr Brown, one was Mr Smith, another was Mr Leman. I can't remember the rest of their names.

Ajmat Ullah

If you need to have Trafalgar Square full up, we did fill up few times. We did have to organise it from all corner of the UK, including Scotland, Ireland etc, and people filled up the coaches. May be 100 coaches and it was strictly ordered that everybody take the maximum effort to fill up the coaches because, otherwise the Trafalgar Square will not be full. And it was eventually the camera, to shows around the world, and when we were able to show the full Trafalgar Square, and people hanging all over, and went all over the world, it meant something, to people of different countries. Because when it is in the Trafalgar Square, it is in the world because of the central position of the Trafalgar Square. So it's not my wife or myself, it was everybody, who were living in UK had to take time off from work. It used to start 8'o clock and finishes at 7 o'clock in the evening. So they left their work there, one day they could earn so much, so they lose their wages there, in addition they give money to the fund, its was not an easy thing. But people did, stick to the task, utmost sacrifice, beyond their ability. Everybody had the facility to settle here. They would not have to bother about what is happening in Bangladesh. Who kills what? But, they did it. Those who were leaders did more.

Abdur Rashid

  • Marietta Procope () Worked for 'Action Bangladesh' during 1971 Sangram. Oxford University graduate.
  • Paul Connett () Worked for 'Action Bangladesh' during 1971 Sangram.
  • Lutfur Jehan Chowdhury () Worked for 'Action Bangladesh' during 1971 Sangram.

...and many more...